In a low-income neighbourhood of Pakistan’s largest city, 16 seemingly healthy children & three adults died suddenly within days of each other last month.
Explaining their mysterious deaths has become part of a heated tug of war, & there are two competing theories. (1/11)
The eldest was a 30-year-old woman, the youngest only 18 months. Their symptoms were strange, Karachi’s police surgeon Dr. Summaiya Tariq told us: “They developed coughs & fever for about three days, stopped eating, got asthma-like attacks, & then they died.” (2/11)
Why would 19 people from a small community of 935 die suddenly?
The province’s environmental protection agency has tried to pin the deaths on a measles outbreak & unvaccinated children in the community. The health department, however, has another theory. (3/11)
They’ve blamed the illegal factories in the Ali Muhammad Goth area, alleging that they’ve spewed so many toxic fumes into the surrounding environment that people are dying.
Members of the local community, living amidst the pollution, agree with this 2nd argument. (4/11)
“These factories killed my wife & [three] children,” Khadim Hussain, a local resident, told us. “My 18-year-old son died just six months after his wedding. We have been alerting authorities for years… These factories need to be bulldozed.” (5/11)
Karachi’s zoning laws technically prohibit factories in Ali Muhammad Goth, but all around unregulated factories with high walls & no signs operate under the guise of “warehouses.” They have light machinery that crush talc, make iron material & cement blocks & burn plastic. (6/11)
Lung problems in the surrounding community are chronic. Abdul Hafeez Leghari, a longtime resident, calls it ghuttan—a feeling of perpetual suffocation, a byproduct of living next to plastic & talc factories, breathing in toxic fumes, day in & day out. (7/11 )
But it’s not just this pocket of Karachi that’s suffering. The city of 22 million is one of the most polluted globally, & when the children died, pollution levels were breaking world records. Many nights in Jan, PM2.5 levels hit above 400—a level classified as “hazardous.” (8/11)
16 children and 3 adults died of "unnatural" causes in a low-income neighbourhood in Pakistan's Karachi city. They live near unregulated factories that have since been ordered closed by authorities. @Sahar Habib Ghazi reports.
So what’s being done? Earlier this month, the high court ordered an investigation into the deaths. Police sealed factories in the area & arrested the owner of one plant suspected of releasing toxic fumes. Police plan to charge him with manslaughter & negligent conduct. (9/11 )
But locals say he isn’t the only one responsible. “There are at least 25 factories surrounding our homes, all of them need to be held accountable,” one resident, who lost four members of his family, told us. “We want justice.” (10/11)